I am a writer who has been asked to do an assembly at a local primary school, and they have asked me to talk to the school about the progress I am making with my second book. Do you have any advice as to what angle I should take in the assembly or what my ‘opening’ speech should include?
It’s great news that you’ve got such a good relationship with your book-friendly local school and very encouraging to hear of a primary school opening a library.
First, some tips for your assembly. Find out, if you haven’t been told, how long the school would like you to speak for and rehearse your talk so that you don’t go over your time. Aim for a slightly shorter talk if you want to include some interactive elements (which I’ll come to in a minute) or invite the children to ask questions. As a guide, you’ll get through 150-170 words a minute, 2-3 minutes an A4 page.
Like all the writers talking to children about their books on World Book Day (and throughout the year), your challenge is going to be making sure you engage the children who aren’t familiar with your books. If you know how many of the group have read the first part of your trilogy, you can pitch your talk accordingly. It’s likely that the audience will want to hear you read some of the work in progress and tell them what stage you’re at, but you should keep the reading shorter than it would be in a classroom setting.
It’s good to have something physical to show pupils at this stage: a notebook, an enlarged photograph of your desk, images that inspire you or some scribbled ideas on envelopes or Post-It notes (photograph them, enlarge the images and stick them on boards). Philip Pullman used to write in a shed where he covered the wall with Post-It notes and The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre reveals that Dahl made many drafts in his favourite notebooks with his favourite pencils, and kept notes of ideas for many years before working with them (25 years in the case of Matilda). If the technology is available and you are comfortable with it, make a slideshow presentation to show your writing at various stages.
The Viking world is an exciting setting for stories for any age group. If you can get across what fascinates you about the Vikings and what inspired you to set your novels in this period, you will draw in children who might not have read your first novel, and might not be enthusiastic about reading fiction. This is where some intriguing artefacts might come in handy. Caroline Lawrence, creator of The Roman Mysteries series, became famous for her school visits featuring a sponge on a stick (Roman loo paper).
For the library opening, you should put your books aside and concentrate on this great opportunity to build enthusiasm for reading and libraries throughout the school. If possible, ask for a tour of the new library beforehand so that you can mention the most inviting features and spot a few books you’d like to read.
Again, find out how long you are expected to speak for and keep within your time limit. Check if there are people who you should thank for creating, running and funding the library (unless another speaker is going to do that).
It’s likely that books and libraries have been important in your life at some stage so now is the time to make the connection between those experiences and your life as a writer today. If there’s time, involve the children (including pupil library assistants if there are any) by asking them what they are looking forward to about their new library.
That all sounds like a lovely day. Have fun!